As a therapist I have noticed that partners of sex addicts frequently have characteristics of love addicts. This is not always the case of course.
Partners of sex addicts may be innocent bystanders. But I think there are some reasons to suggest an affinity between love addicts and sex addicts.
There are underlying similarities between sex addicts and love addicts in terms of brain chemistry, intimacy issues, abandonment fear and co-dependentence. Both tend to have early childhood trauma and attachment issues.
However, I think it is the separate, distinct characteristics of each that attract them to each other.
Here are my thoughts on how this pairing might come about and what function it might serve for the addict and the partner.
The allure of the sex addict
What sex addicts do is to behave in certain predictable ways that turn out to be an engraved invitation for the love addict.
- Superficial intensity
Love addicts have the fantasy of being desired and rescued. As Pia Mellody puts it
“When these individuals get old enough, they begin to form a fantasy in their head of somebody rescuing them from being so alone, of making them matter. The fantasy usually takes the form of being rescued by – it is like Cinderella — a knight in shining armor or a wonder woman, who will take care of them and help them come out of their dilemma of being too alone and worthless and not knowing what to do.”
Sex addicts are themselves very insecure and narcissistic. They want to be seen as the hero even if it is a façade. The love addict would like to be permanently swept away. But intensity is not the same as intimacy; it is a fantasy that cannot be sustained.
Sex addicts can appear to offer unconditional love and acceptance because they lack the ability to be who they really are in a relationship. The sex addict is often comfortable with saying what the love addict wants to hear since he or she is invested in a whole other, secret sexual life.
This works for the love addict who needs to feel completed in a relationship. The love addict does not see through the sex addict’s perfect love but merely projects their own fantasy onto it. They feel safe.
Sex addicts are seductive. They can manipulate the love addict into feeling that they are perfect, the fairy princess. The love addict needs to feel perfect in order to feel safe. If I am perfect you will never leave me.
- Lack of intention or commitment
Sex addicts substitute the intensity, superficiality and seductiveness for any real investment in the relationship or in the future. Lacking intimacy skills they don’t confront the partner about anything, don’t negotiate, and often avoid talking about their needs and wants altogether.
The love addict cannot tolerate the requirements of real intimacy either such as being open to confrontation, being willing to admit to being imperfect or wrong, or allowing the addict to be imperfect. Since the sex addict lacks the ability to be real and work on a relationship, the basic unavailability of the sex addict a good fit.
As Patrick Carnes has said:
“Love addicts consciously want intimacy, but can’t tolerate healthy closeness, so they must unconsciously choose a partner who cannot be intimate in a healthy way.”
The love addict partner is unconsciously drawn toward a relationship in which there is intense romanticism (at first) but which cannot lead to a stable grown-up relationship. In the long run, the love addict will be subjected to disappointment, deception and episodes of abandonment by the person they love. Yet they will often continue to be “hooked” on the fantasy.